January 1, 2013

The Best Filipino Tracks of 2012 (#20 - 1)

Coming up with a year-end music list is always exhausting. You scour the dusting archives and recount the experience you had with the 8-month single. You skip meals and do some hefty amount of research just to check on accuracy and background info. You play the music again and again, until you absorb detail by detail, the impact it had on you, the way it accompanied you on your long walks and commute, and the killer hooks that made you tap your foot without missing a beat. Then you compare. Contrast. Rub out some excess. And to some point, add the overlooked ones. Voila! There goes the top 10.

Below is a list of the Best Filipino tracks of 2012, this blog’s very own tribute to a successful year in music. And before anything else, I just want to clear that this doesn't affirm any sweeping statements, claims or whatsoever unbearable bragging of expertise that some might point out. These are just personal thoughts. I could be wrong. I might be right. It's just a space anyway. And I’m sure you have yours to use.

20. Rome and the Cats – “House Party” [ free download ]
House Party EP

A great night-capper for the uninitiated, Rome and the Cats’ “House Party” takes many of the same ingredients present on a lot of synth-pop records from the ‘80s and wastes no time reinventing it with smokey ambience and homemade crackle. But despite a checklist of influences reserved for pinpoint, “House Party” alchemizes all of their arty experimentalism into a happy-sad anthem that could make indie festival crowds lose their shit. No other tune this year parades its dance sensibilities better than this song, too incredibly groovy that you wouldn’t even notice how this stuff was actually inspired by yearning and loneliness, more than the merry vibe it wants to project.

19. Similar Objects – “Michael’s Cloak” [ free download ]

Similar Objects’ music inspires imagination. Even in its many incarnations, his music always takes a boundless, map-scrunching approach, exploring moods and space, timing and the lack of it. On “Michael’s Cloak,” Jorge continues to sketch his ambient ambition on a hazy, virtual ride—melding bedroom electronics with a swab of digital burbles and hiccupping synths. There’s a shift in sonic composition when the track hits 2:45, where in a brief time, everything felt like subhuman noise imploding in disco heaven bursts. This is music for the dampened soul, my friend.

18. Yolanda Moon – “73” [ stream ]

It’s been quite a year for Yolanda Moon. Barely a year has passed and they’ve quickly ascend into buzz band graduates, eventually landing them a deal with Manila-based indie label, Terno Recordings. The success, I believe has something to do with the songs posted in their Soundcloud page and how these packets of tease were turned into a gold mine from its early incarnations as demo tracks. Those sparsely crafted, stripped down compositions punctuated with nuance and detail, send chills every damn time you listen to it, taking their jabs from every great artist in their timeline—from Stevie Wonder to Conor Oberst.

Their new track “73” marks another solid turn into their songcraft, committed rigorously on crafting earnest folk-pop music that is less about ambition, and more on heart and soul. While not as well-received as first single “Small Talk,” it validates Yolanda Moon’s knack for heartsick ballads, that when consigned to a subdued but transcendent performance, can lead into a gravitating piece of work that’s just beautiful beyond words.

17. Plant A Tree Feat. Glaiza De Castro – “PNP4” [ free download ]

Pat Sarabia recruits young actress Glaiza De Castro on a twisted art-pop stomper that brings to mind a woozier version of Deerhoof and Morningwood. The collabo track “PNP4” features Glaiza’s candy-coated vocals pitched up and manipulated to make it sound like a drugged Satomi Matsuzaki stuck in a mobile disco caravan with nothing to hold on to but a glass of Margarita, accompanied by some vaguely funky, homemade electro-pop pounding from air-suspended fantasyland.

“PNP4” is strangely thrilling, like a smitten lover high on drugs, trying to calm herself down by dancing in bed and throwing pillows from one corner to another. The bouncy beats evoke pure joy and its modern, poppy vibe sounds inevitably comforting. It’s a perfect but jagged alchemy of pop appeal and quirk, idiosyncrasy and psychedelia, juxtaposed with cozy dancefloor energy that you wouldn’t mind getting drunk and crazy to, even if the world has gone crazier. There’s no other way to escape it really, but to embrace its existence. And it wouldn’t hurt if you’ll dance to it, either like it’s, uggh—the end of the world.

16. Dash Calzado – “Return of the Phunky Juan” [ stream ]
Return of the Phunky Juan

In the wake of Filipino hiphop’s return to critical and commercial forefront, Dash Calzado (of the Legit Misfitz) proves to be one of the genre’s best, delivering a tongue-in-cheek, tatted up whack that smashes everything from ‘90s Manila rap to New Orleans funk. His new single “Return of the Phunky Juan” dares you to play catch-up with its string of fresh ideas and euphoric bounce, made completely enjoyable by a giddy sample straight from 60s classic funk pioneers The Meters’ “Hand Clapping Song.”

15. Library Kids – “A Quiet Walk Outside” [ free download ]

Hushed and wistful, “A Quiet Walk Outside” evokes the loneliness of long Holiday breaks and the intimately pained sighs invested in the timeframe, wrapped in a beautiful package that passes off as pastoral folk musings resonating over and over until they stick for good. Equally disarming is the quality of their songwriting, which for all its stark nakedness and simplicity, takes a lighter but imaginative approach on how regrets can lead someone to stabbing one’s heart with an echoing conscience.

14. Ron Henley Feat. Pow Chavez – “Biglang Liko” [ stream ]

Hoarding 8 million Youtube views and counting, you would think Ron Henley is gunning for hiphop superstardom, transforming his quirks and jagged personality into a compelling commercial success story. But he isn’t. His smash single “Biglang Liko” just happened to gather strong airplay across every city in the country 10 months after its release, with its weirdly refreshing pop hooks and immensely catchy beats grabbing your neck to some vividly pleasurable place away from the attention of glitzy city lights and cosmopolitan noise. Bojam’s production work, which deserves most of the credit here, scraps bubblegum synths and bouncy Nintendo jitters out of infectious joy, crafting a sound bed suited for both the clubs and late-night headphone banging. Pow Chavez’s ear-mint vocal hooks shouldn’t also be left out, adding a layer of spritely cushion and bubble to the mix. But it’s Ron Henley’s accessible brand of wit and narrative that elevates this track into pure LSS high rise, knighted with meme recall and laconic charisma.

13. The Broken Leslies – “A Little Love” [ free download ]

Once again, kick-ass rock n’ roll is resurrected in the form of The Broken Leslie’s “A Little Love” and it offers unexpected freshness in its garage-punk orthodoxy, something that’s been missing in most hard rock releases of the past few years. Here, Raphael Pulgar howls and screams like a man set on fire, all rage and wild, running in apocalyptic speed so as to catch up with the lurching groove of mammoth, chunky rock verses and overdriven, tortured guitars.

It’s actually over the top in a fun, riotous way. Think of The White Stripes or Stones, restless in playing that familiar classic rock jams made dirtier in execution, but with a bit of style and modern vibe thrown to it. And with Bianca Marbella pounding on the organ like Motown never happened, “A Little Love” explores more than what loud music is all about: that it’s got soul too, and there’s more to this raw aggression than dismissing it as ungodly waste of trash.

12. Third World Summer – “Displaced Voices” [ free download ]

Allan Lumba’s latest music project Third World Summer is a noticeable departure from his ‘90s-inflected guitar-pop, a delightful clubland experiment that mixes Balearic pop with hazy vocal loops, ambient sonics, and seaside beats. His new single “Displaced Voices” sounds like a cross between Caribou and Achillea, with a buoyant pulse that feels freshly submerged out of water. A slow building streamroller designed to get our feet grooving while we lay in the sand reaching for that infinite summer bliss, “Displaced Voices” places just the right emphasis on fun and bounce, born on the desire to make great pop music that soars above clouds.

11. Ciudad – “There’s A Lonely Road To Sunday Night” [ stream ]
Follow The Leader/OST Ang Nawawala

There’s nothing really special about Ang Nawawala other than it helped galvanize the Manila indie scene into some exclusive community for privileged scenester kids who practically buys everything obscure and artsy because they have all the money in the world to spend for it. And oh, I forgot to include that it’s a heartfelt movie about hipsters who have feelings too, relegating it to a form of gripping mumblecore confessional specifically made for the Tumblr generation. In the movie’s heart is “There’s A Lonely Road To Sunday Night,” Ciudad’s ode to unflinching loneliness, reminiscent of the nights spent on star-gazing at the trunk of your car while you practically shut down your presence from the rest of the world.

It’s a Ciudad song like you haven’t heard it before: a calm-in-the-storm presence that lulls you to sleep while also gives you a sense of comfort, layered in such a way that it touches the backyard of our youths with daydream hope and earnestness. Mikey Amistoso takes his music seriously, making sure that he measures up to the emotional arc of the film, its characters, and the restrained mood that pieces everything together.

10. Up Dharma Down – “Turn It Well” [ stream ]

It’s impossible to imagine the local music landscape without Up Dharma Down and their desire to hit an equilibrium where future and past, human and technology, off-kilter experiments and modern pop accessibility, could all collapse and melt in a swamp of possibilities. Around the turn of the millennium when the biggest Filipino band, The Eraserheads called it quits and a new wave of youthful, sonically adventurous OPM started to gain its foothold on the gig scene and the internet, Up Dharma Down held up pretty well to modern ears, introducing a hugely influential sound that blends the melancholic and atmospheric style of post-rock, shoegaze and electronic music with the urban-funk breeze of Jill Scott.

But there’s more to their revisionist take on contemporary music than meets the eye: these guys have embraced the mood of 21st century life and post-modern ennui with a kind of music that carves out spots in the lives of many Filipino people. The songwriting tandem alone of Paul Yap and Armi Millare spawned singles that nearly takes then rescues life. For the last 7 years, they’ve made us shout-along to the bitterness of “Oo,” fall in love over and over again with “Tadhana,” and run sobbing in daydream with “Indak,” while making our everyday life experiences and heartbreaks a part of theirs too. At their most engaging, Up Dharma Down wrote songs that are landmark of its time, pained and genuine, delivered as if it echoes the sentiment of someone who has gone through a lot in life.

Their new single “Turn It Well” off their highly anticipated third album, Capacities slightly veers away from the trajectory of all-heartbreak and soul that caught the world webbed in emotional tangles. Surprisingly, it falls headfirst into well-placed blasts of retro-cosmic fetishisms and hooky, New Order-inspired synthwork, cruising on some ‘80s throwback that’s unlikely stripped off from the pop thrills of a dance record. If that seems like a sort of bait and switch, then you must have underestimated Up Dharma Down’s change of sonic direction that early. Armi Millare gets pummeled by this newfound style, her voice now fogged up and processed in the cushiness of the production to make her sound like life’s depended on a bejeweled heart controlled by Nintendo gamers stuck in the ‘80s. Synthesizers and velvety electronic flourishes are also more upfront here, trying to control the over-all flow than hijacking it. But compared to anything that Up Dharma Down has released over the past few years, “Turn It Well” is more about shredding their emotional pop tropes for something more adventurous and stylish, dressing it up with straightforward new wave pulse that sounds way ahead of its time, even in its retro-fashion sense.

9. Frank Magalona – “Hari” [ stream ]

At the center of the spectacle that is “Hari,” Frank Magalona exhibits confidence and humility in equal measures, letting his arsenal of words fall over layers of sonic extravagance and create friction that sends electric daggers right through the listener’s soul. This time, Frank refuses to get acknowledged as the heir to Francis Magalona’s throne or the kid that showed interest in filling the seat. He’s only interested in telling his dad’s story, far from the virtuous paragons of how it was portrayed in the media, completely reflective of how he saw and felt it firsthand.

Yes, it’s obviously another tribute to the king of Pinoy hiphop in the vein of Gloc 9’s “Alalay Ng Hari,” but Frank does something even more difficult: he curates and eulogizes all at the same time, battling his emotions with lines that forge the connection between the rapper and his hero, careful not to sensationalize his story to melodramatic effect. His homage to the late rapper is articulated in ways that, while rooted in real life experiences, can be embraced by everyone tied by the togetherness brought by his music or music, in general. “Hari” claims Francis Magalona’s legacy and throne as if it will be forever his, but more than that, it’s Frank’s way of echoing our sentiments too, that no one can replace the Master Rapper other than the generation that continues to recognize what and where he’s left off.

8. Bagetsafonik – “Airports” [ stream ]

Amid all the well-justified hype that surrounds recent releases by Encounters With A Yeti, Up Dharma Down and Ciudad, not a lot of people have been paying attention to Bagetsafonik’s self-titled sophomore record—a well-crafted collection of bittersweet tunes that may just end up on top of our favorite OPM albums list this year. Like Sugarfree’s Talaarawan or Cambio’s Derby Light, it’s a thematically consistent record that’s “beautiful in its ugliness to show a love that ended in terminal decay,” as we’ve pointed out in our March 11, 2012 review.

“Airports,” the lead single off Bagetsafonik’s sophomore album, is a searing portrait of parting and failed relationships, a break-up ode that catches you by surprise with its crushing sadness and hopelessness. The song holds to simple instrumentation, lush ‘90s guitar work and dramatic synth arcs that allow Ace Cada’s expressive vocals to develop the story and breathe in room devoid of sunshine, perfectly rendering a poignant alt ballad that reveals emotional truths behind the veil. After repeated listens, it feels like you’ve always known the situation and how it works, that terrible minute where you have to wave goodbye and leave the memories behind, and look forward to a feel-good pat the next thing in the morning.

7. Pedicab – “Otomatik” [ stream ]
Kaya Mo Mag-Sando?

“Oh Diyos ko, ayoko maging robot.” It’s a sentiment shared by thousands of caffeinated zombies working their butts off a corporate boredom, dreaming of trips abroad and a perfect tan. Pedicab captures such collective yearning in the video for their new single “Otomatik”—an agitated, surf-punk raver with honeyed disco beats dripping like it’s about to grow sunflower. Shot in Vietnam, the video features the band enjoying their vacation, goofing around in Ho Chi Minh and other interesting places in the Southern-most part of the country. It’s a fun clip fashioned with classic Pedicab humor, Kraftwerk-posing shots, and space glasses, something you'd expect from a bunch of kiddos just having the time of their life.

6. Cerumentric – “Beloved Beautiful Noise” [ free download ]

If there’s any justice left in this world, Cerumentric’s “Beloved Beautiful Noise” will keep you swooning from Halloween towards the end of summer, holding up against some of the finest modern synth-pop releases in the last two years. It’s no Cut Copy or a raved up Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, but it threads on similarly forested terrain, pounding on heavy industrial synthesizers and sunshiney gloom with a utopian disco stomp from 1983, and though that sound was heavily rehashed by blog-era bands partying at the shimmery end of indie, nobody does it quite refreshing and brooding like Cerumentric.

5. June Marieezy Feat. RBTO – Sometimes [ stream ]
Heavy Eyes

Well, fuck it. Despite not cracking mainstream radio charts and Pinoy MYX Countdown, this minimalist R&B banger has everything a contemporary smash should be. Its hooks are downright catchy and appealing, a summer jam that you’d want to hear all year long whether you’re grinding in the club or stuck in traffic. You could even mistake it for a post-millennial Aaliyah number with an old school hiphop vibe or a B-side to a Cassie song, only that June Marieezy has that distinct soulfulness glazed in thin, honeyed form—light and sexy, but never too showy.

Good thing it didn’t explode the way it should have been. “Sometimes” didn’t even shoot up into minor hit territory, but it was pretty much inescapable this year. It was the song that launched June Marieezy to cult favorite status, becoming the underdog that we root for in the sea of talentless hacks singing covers on TV and slutting their way to tacky mall shows. We’ve all wish that every frigging pop star owns half of June’s charisma and style, if not commercial appeal.

4. Eyedress – “Everything We Touch Turns Into Gold” [ stream ]
Eyedress Beko

It’s difficult to pick only one Eyedress song in the list since most of his minimalist jams produce an alluringly hazy, daydream effect that’s more about feelings than surface and exteriors. Inside of the songs lies a deeply weird guy of emotional nature, coping up with love and loss, delivering sentiments with natural command of hooks and confessionals. Eyedress knows his stuff really well, and he’s brilliant at encapsulating his personal rubbles and dramas into a 3-minute pop song that exhibits both emotional complexity and innocence, singing wounded songs like a grown man who has familiarized every rough edges the world has to offer.

But nothing is as bittersweet and haunting as “Everything We Touch Turns Into Gold,” a gauzy love song that sounds life-affirming in its small, intimate moments. The track’s chilled atmospherics and starry synths create a sanctuary that feels like a strange escape to the real world, but Eyedress’ washed out vocals trap everything down with yearning and false hopes, surrendering completely to the illusory whims of great love. “I still think of you,” he repeats with a heavy heart, his soul carried away by the winds in a far-flung place that you wouldn’t want to visit. Heartbreaks never sounded as cold and hopeless as this.

3. Child/ren of the Pilgrimage – “Apostolic Dominique Fire” [ stream ]

In between carefree simplicity and childhood nostalgia, Child/ren of the Pilgrimage makes songs that would remind you of a time when life was easier and so much fun, looking back fondly at those sephia-toned memories with gleeful stride rather than some form of wallowed misery that's about to explode. “Apostolic Dominique Fire” lurks around this newfound aesthetic, conveying beautifully understated moments in shimmering guitars, breezy vocal harmonies and sun-baked melodies, showing in fleeting, the beauty of life in retrospect. It’s the sound of that wonderful hazy summer two to three years ago, light and breezy, brimming with confectioner’s sugar all over the place. But at the same time, it’s a touchstone of everything you love when you’re home, that sense of comfort that you’d want to bask all day long when life’s feeling pretty shitty and boring.

2. Gloc 9 Feat. Ebe Dancel – “Sirena” [ stream ]
MKNM: Mga Kwento Ng Makata

Homophobia, whether direct or implicit, has always been present in Philippine contemporary music, a testament of how divided modern society is when it comes to approaching issues that hound gender and sexuality lines. From Michael V.’s “Hindi Ako Bakla” to something as offensive as Blakdyak’s “Modelong Charing”, gays of the loud kind have been mocked by some misguided artists who’d resort to ill-considered caricaturing of homosexuals in favor of entertainment fluff.

On the polar opposite, there are few artists that deserve plenty of kudos for sticking it out with the LGBTQ community, standing even more strongly on the power of art as an expression to advocate gender equality. Gloc 9’s new single “Sirena”, while deemed by others as stunted shock factor or just pretentious sloganeering, sends a pro-gay message that doesn’t come off as a duty to please a certain demographic. Told in first person perspective, Aristotle Pollisco takes the role of a hardworking gay man who hurdled his childhood and teenage years being the center of ridicule, yet remains to be a colorful, forgiving, and responsible person unfazed by other people’s opinion of him.

Ebe Dancel lends a helping hand by singing the chorus part, spewing the self-empowering line “Ako’y isang Sirena, kahit anong sabihin nila ako ay ubod ng ganda” in a mantra-like grind that cuts right through the soul of every gay men and the world that’s been ignorant of the real struggles of LGBTQ youth. But Gloc 9’s narrative flow and delivery makes it more special and uplifting. Aside from acknowledging and embracing the humanity of gay people through a music genre that had long-standing issues with the LGBTQ in the past, he also channels his message through a valid art form that catalyzes critical thinking and inspires individuals. That itself is something that goes beyond art, something that is truly relevant especially in a time when rampant homophobia is a bubbling issue across our culture.

1. Ang Bandang Shirley – “Nakauwi Na” [ stream ]
Tama Na Ang Drama

I admit to not liking Shirley until I finally heard “Nakauwi Na”—a song that captures the contagiously gleeful feeling of falling in love. Like any great pop anthem, you can feel your heart is in the right place every time you wrap yourself into the tune’s blissful charm, from the guitar-chiming intro down to the sing-along chorus, everything responds into an upward ricochet—almost heavenly, you’d want to hold someone else’s hand while you play this song on loop, nonstop.

Credit goes to Ean Aguila’s impeccable pop songcraft and his gift of turning simple declarations of love into something monumental and game-changing. Ean is no Ebe Dancel or Ely Buendia, but his songwriting style is a masterclass of its own, constructing short, meaningful moments rather than fully realized narratives, blowing it up into cinematic proportions of some sorts. Sure, he mirrors other people’s experiences as if he holds the key to the most heartbreaking 5 minutes of their lives, but it felt like he’s a part of it too, someone who breathes in the same space as we all do.

BEST FILIPINO EPs OF 2012 (10 - 1)
BEST COVERS OF 2012 (10 - 1)

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